Learn horticultural therapy skills; understand different disabilities and illnesses, appropriate activities, managing risks, and achieving benefits.

Course Code: BHT341
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
Get started!


Interested in horticulture? Want to help others?  

Empower people to experience the joys and miracles of gardening 

Horticultural therapy (also known as‘social and therapeutic horticulture’) uses the activities associated with horticulture such as gardening, plant propagation, plant care, visits to natural environments and gardens and parks etc. in personal development; to engender a feeling of well-being, improve physical health and encourage social interaction.  Involvement with plants and time spent in gardens has also been used for many years as a viable part of aged care, particularly for patents with dementia and for patients convalescing in hospitals or in care a pleasant view of a landscape and / or garden has proved to significantly reduce the recovery time for patients lucky enough to have a landscape of plants and greenery to look at each day.  

Horticultural therapists use horticultural activities as a tool for helping disadvantaged people. The therapy may be focused on either:

  • improving or maintaining muscle function, and other aspects of physical wellbeing

  • psychological wellbeing (eg. helping elderly people stay active in their declining years, helping disabled people to have a sense of worth, providing an opportunity for social interaction, etc)

  • providing people with impaired capabilities with an opportunity for employment (eg. In a sheltered workshop

  • providing a pathway to rehabilitation; or perhaps providing an alternative lifestyle.

  • developing practical skills

  • developing social skills

  • rehabilitation of physically or psychologically damaged individuals

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Horticultural Therapy
    • Why Horticultural Therapy?
    • Who uses Horticultural Therapy?
    • Where can we use Horticultural Therapy Programs?
    • What are the Benefits of Using Horticultural Therapy
    • General Benefits
    • Physical Benefits
    • Psychological Benefits
    • What do you need to be a Horticultural Therapist?
    • Typical Jobs or Career Paths
    • Liability
  2. Understanding Disabilities and Communicating with people with disabilities - Communication, Teaching and Counselling Skills
    • The significance of communication skills to interacting with clients in a horticultural therapy situation
    • What are Intellectual disabilities/ intellectually challenged/ learning?
    • What are mental illnesses /mental health issues/ mental disorders?
    • What is Communication?
    • Effective Communication Skills
    • Self-Awareness
    • Self-Esteem
    • Listening
    • Teaching Skills
    • Learning Principles - What is Learning?
    • Teaching Strategies
    • Teaching Models
    • Recognising Learner’s Needs
    • Writing a Program
    • Counselling Skills
  3. Risk Management - Hygiene for vulnerable people; what extra risks are to be considered in a therapy situation - chemical, physical
    • Identifying potential risks to participants within a horticultural therapy program
    • Developing risk minimisation procedures
    • Risk Management for Vulnerable People
    • Workplace Health and Safety Issues
    • Identifying Hazards
    • Assessing sites and operations for risk
    • Conducting a Safety Audit
    • Risk Control Methods
    • Safety Precautions for a Horticultural Therapy Program
    • Manual Lifting
    • Rules for Using Tools
    • Personal Protective Equipment
  4. Accessibility and Activities for people with Mobility issues
    • Determine solutions to improve accessibility for disabled people in horticultural situations
    • Ensuring that horticultural therapy is offered in a way that is accessible to clients and their particular needs
    • Help With Manual Tasks
    • Examples of Adaptations in Tools and Equipment
    • Physical Support
    • Understanding Ergonomics
    • Working with other Professionals
    • Protective Gear
  5. Enabling the Disabled - with restricted motor skills
    • Modify horticultural practices to be suitable for disabled people
    • Enabling Gardening Activities
    • Gardening in Raised Beds
    • Staged Therapies
    • Horticultural Therapy for Mental Disorders
    • Effectiveness of Horticultural Activities
  6. Producing Things – Vegetables, Propagation, Fruit, Herbs
    • The Garden - A Growing Place
    • Planning the Crop
    • What to Grow?
    • Planning the Cropping Program
    • Crop Rotation
    • No-Dig Techniques
    • Propagation
    • Sowing and Transplanting Guide
    • Transplanting Seedlings
    • Crowns, Offsets and Tubers
    • Cold Frames
    • Fruit
    • Herbs
    • Propagating Herbs
    • Culinary Herbs Directory
  7. Growing in Containers -Vertical gardens, pots, Hydroponics
    • Growing Plants in Containers
    • Problems that can occur with Pots
    • Growing Fruit Trees in a Container
    • Growing Strawberries in Containers
    • Growing Vegetables in Containers
    • Vertical gardens
    • Hydroponics
    • A Simple Hydroponic System
  8. Creating a Therapeutic Garden
    • Learn to create gardens that are appropriate for horticultural therapy situations
    • Creating a Therapeutic Garden
    • Consulting with other Professionals
    • Garden Retreats for Rest and Recuperation
    • Sensory Gardens
    • Some popular Plants for a therapeutic garden
    • Landscape Principles
    • Design Elements
    • Plants to Avoid or to use under Certain Conditions
  9. Generating Income
    • Explore ways that horticultural therapy can become a partial or fully funded activity by generating income
    • Working with Others
    • Work Hours & Pay
    • Sheltered Workshops
    • Therapeutic Farms
    • Small Business Opportunities for Disabled People
    • Certification & Registration

Where can we Use Horticultural Therapy Programs?

Participants in a horticultural therapy program are often referred by their medical practitioner i.e. doctor, social worker or other care professional – programs can be simple or complex, ranging from weekly gardening sessions through to full educational programs.

What activities are appropriate?

  • Propagation - run by community re-vegetation groups, local government nurseries, supported employees within a work centre (in the past known as sheltered workshops).

  • Tree planting - offered through re-vegetation programs often run by volunteer organisations or groups and sometimes also through government funded organisations.

  • Community projects (such as parks and garden, re-vegetation) – upgrading existing facilities or establishing new ones. These are often government funded and part of an unemployed program to improve skills, provide education and enhance employment opportunities. Planting out trees for rehabilitation of indigenous vegetation.

  • Garden maintenance – some community based programs offer supervised garden maintenance (participants may be themselves disabled or unemployed, on a community based work order as part of a drug rehabilitation program) to the elderly or physically disabled, to enable them to remain in their own homes and still also have a garden.

  • Hydroponics – ideal for patients with limited mobility. It is also ideal for patients that cannot be exposed to bacteria (found in soils) or where bacteria may be a concern. The medium and solutions can be prepared by using sterilized components.

  • The productive garden; growing, vegetables herbs, cut flowers, perfumed plants and fruit – this can include a wide range of people with various physical and social skills, through to isolated individuals.

Programs can be held at:

  • Community houses/centres – they are often funded to run programs for the unemployed, people with a mental disability or the socially and educationally compromised; garden beds can be raised for people with physical disabilities.

  • Community gardens - community gardens are also used as general community social centres for like-minded people to share their skills and have social interaction. Community garden are often established in city centres, in public housing areas and in many suburban areas with tiny gardens (or no gardens).

  • Elderly/geriatric care facilities – gardening activities tailored to suit the ability of the individual, allows elderly people in care situations to explore and contribute to their surrounding environment. It can give people a sense of purpose and achievement, as well as improve psychological health and cognitive ability.

  • Hospitals and hospices – some hospitals have developed sensory gardens for their patients; research has found that gardens aid healing or provide peaceful pursuits or experiences for the terminally ill.

  • Nursery or garden centre – many nurseries and garden centres run short (1-2 hour) information sessions for their clients to raise awareness of products but also to raise plant knowledge and encourage positive gardening experiences.

  • Schools and kindergartens – there are numerous school-based horticultural programs today. Many schools have productive gardens where students learn to tend and also to cook vegetables.

  • Work-centres (sheltered workshops) – these employ workers with mental disabilities at a minimal pay rate; work encourages a feeling of inclusion and self-esteem and a sense of purpose - whilst also providing the participants with a small income. 

  • Prisons – horticultural therapy programs in prisons have been long-established. They range from informal programs through to structured educational and practical programs. Farming has also been a long-standing industry within prisons.

  • Psychiatric facilities – horticultural therapy is often used within psychiatric institutions as part of  rehabilitation programmes and to provide a patient with structure in their daily routines. 


Horticulture represents a suitable vehicle for helping people with a wide range of mental disorders. Programs need to be adapted to the individual based on their diagnosis and individual needs. For example, for someone with dementia it would be a good idea to create simple tasks with clear instructions. The therapist could instruct the client how deep to dig holes for planting, and how wide to space them. The therapist could place the plants in the holes and backfill them. The client could then water each plant afterwards. In this way, the client is involved in the process and as such they are less likely to ask questions or become distracted.  

For clients with other types of mental disorders, you can start with a baseline which is where they are currently at, and establish what their goals are i.e. where they would like to be. This provides a means of measuring progress. For example, someone with a social phobia may find it fear-provoking to become involved with a therapist in undertaking gardening tasks. To begin with they may only get within ten metres of the therapist and fail to make eye contact. After several weeks they may get a little closer and make eye contact once or twice in a session. As the therapy progresses, they may begin to trust the therapist more and begin to lose their fear. As such, the therapy is working as a form of desensitisation. The client is gradually exposing themselves to more fearful situations and overcoming their social phobia. The same principles may apply to clients with a range of anxiety disorders.

In the treatment of depression, it is known that helping the client to become active is an important part of recovery from, and containment of, symptoms. By focussing on other things, the sufferer can take their mind from those thoughts which are perpetuating their illness. Not only does horticulture therapy help to re-focus thoughts, but the exercise involved also reduces blood pressure and stress levels and helps to release hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins which stimulate feelings of pleasure and exhilaration which serve to compete with depressive feelings.  

Whilst some clients may need one-on-one supervision depending on the nature of their disorder and their ability to work independently for short periods, often groups of patients with mental health problems can work alongside one another in a therapeutic setting. Many mental health inpatients and day care patients have stated that horticulture and garden therapy offers them a break from the hospital environment which is often viewed as being sterile, unstimulating, and a place where thoughts associated with their conditions may predominate.

If several different groups are underway concurrently, e.g. a planting group, a pruning group, and a compost-making group, then clients may switch from one group to another depending which holds most interest for them.

Effectiveness of Horticultural Activities

Horticultural therapy not only offers an opportunity for clients to socialise and get away from the ordinary mental health hospital environment, but it can alleviate symptoms associated with mental health disorders and enhance concentration levels. 

Some studies have also demonstrated that individuals with mental health disorders who become involved in horticulture therapy become more concerned with their personal hygiene and strive to improve it. They are also able to take on responsibilities and realise their capabilities which helps towards improving their levels of self-esteem and self-worth.

Group work can also help to improve social skills through working with others in establishing solutions to problems. Programmes or enterprises which involve dealing with the general public e.g. through sales of produce, also offer opportunities for patients to improve communication skills as well as using other skills like marketing and accounting. They also exercise mental processing in doing so.   

Another impact of involving people with mental health illnesses in horticulture therapy and associated activities is that through interaction with the local community, the community members are more able to see the value of these individuals and to appreciate their worth to the community. As such, community members often change their attitudes towards the mentally ill and increase their respect for them.  



Horticultural therapy is fast becoming a vigorous profession. Research has found the benefits of rehabilitation through horticulture are enormous. It covers all social stratas from rich to poor. Horticultural therapy helps:

  • Those rehabilitating from surgery

  • Prison inmates to find new directions and purpose

  • People with mental health disorders.

Horticulture therapy provides a means of helping people develop social skills, improve physical mobility, and regain confidence. It is slowly but surely becoming more widely recognised as an efficacious form of therapy.

This course will be of particular interest to people wishing to get involved in either the practical side of therapeutic garden design or in delivering therapy programs. It is suited to people working in:

  • Horticulture therapy
  • Landscape gardening
  • Garden design
  • Psychotherapy & counselling
  • Caring roles
  • Teachers
Member of the Future Farmers Network

Member of the International Herb Association since 1988

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Accredited ACS Global Partner

Member of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association since 1993

Member of the Permaculture Association

Member of Study Gold Coast

College Member of Complementary Medicine Association assessed to teach a range of areas including Counselling, Nutrition, Natural Therapies.

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Gavin Cole (Horticulturist)

Gavin started his career studying building and construction in the early 80's. Those experiences have provided a very solid foundation for his later work in landscaping. In 1988 he completed a B.Sc. and a few years later a Certificate in Garden Design. I

Diana Cole

Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Permaculture Design Certificate, B.A. (Hons)-Geography, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
Diana has been an enthusiastic volunteer with community garden and land conservation projects sinc

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

Need Help?

Take advantage of our personalised, expert course counselling service to ensure you're making the best course choices for your situation.

I agree for ACS Distance Education to contact me and store my information until I revoke my approval. For more info, view our privacy policy.